NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – The Rutgers Board of Governors today established the Elizabeth H. Solomon Endowed Chair in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. The board also appointed April A. Benasich as the first holder of the endowed chair.Benasich, a professor of neuroscience and the director of the Infancy Studies Laboratory at the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience (CMBN) at Rutgers University-Newark, focuses her research on understanding how the infant brain progressively sets up normal language and what happens when those processes follow an atypical developmental path. She has been able to identify infants at high risk for later language disorders and demonstrate how interactive “play” techniques can “fine-tune” and sharpen brain maps critical to early language development, thus allowing remediation of language disorders well before babies speak their first word.
“The Solomon Chair is emblematic of Rutgers University-Newark, itself – as a diverse, urban research institution – on multiple levels,” said Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor. “The high-impact scholarship it supports is cutting-edge and addresses neurocognitive issues faced disproportionately among urban populations. We could not be more grateful to Elizabeth Solomon for her vision and generosity, evident in her consistent support for this work and now especially in creating this chair.
“And we could not be more proud to name April Benasich as the first Solomon Chair for her extraordinary work that is at once innovative and keenly attuned to a pressing need in our community, catalyzing expertise across academe, the private sector, policymakers and community members.”
Benasich, who is also the director of the Carter Center for Neurocognitive Research, received her doctoral degree from New York University in Experimental/Cognitive Neuroscience and Clinical Psychology. She did her postdoctoral work at Johns Hopkins
University Medical School as a member of the Research Steering Committee of the Infant Health and Development Program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“It is particularly significant that the Solomon Chair will support research focused on understanding early brain development, the multiple factors that may contribute to language learning disorders and the particular strategies that help facilitate optimal organization of the brain as it develops,” Benasich said.
The funding for the endowed chair will ensure that ongoing, creative, and innovative research into the causes of developmental disorders such as dyslexia and autism will endure here at Rutgers University-Newark, Benasich said.
“Mrs. Solomon has been a passionate advocate for my work and has generously supported my research in the field for 20 years,” she said. “She has been a shining example of how a continuing donation can have an extraordinary impact on the course of important research.”
The endowed chair is funded by a $1 million gift from Elizabeth H. Solomon and $500,000 from an anonymous donor. It will be matched by $1.5 million from an anonymous donor who has provided $40.6 million in matching gifts to create a total of 18 new endowed chairs at Rutgers as part of the university’s recently concluded fundraising campaign, “Our Rutgers, Our Future: A Campaign for Excellence.”
Benasich said the creation of the endowed chair may help change the course of early development for children at risk for learning impairments and decrease the number of children who eventually develop language disorders.
“This will be the first endowed chair in the Arts and Sciences at Rutgers-Newark and one of the very first endowed chairs in the United States that will specifically focus on developmental cognitive neuroscience, an emerging field that emphasizes the vital importance of a developmental approach to understanding brain-behavior relations,” Benasich said.